Roman Pottery Glossary

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In the description of objects in the catalogue, the following abbreviations, descriptive terms and conventions have been employed:

Numbers of Objects

During the course of excavation, each object uncovered which was thought worthy of record received an inventory number preceded by a letter or letters which indicated its category or material, as shown below. For the purposes of this study, the objects from each of the eight groups have received additional, arbitrary catalogue numbers preceded by the group letter. In the text and catalogue which follow, group numbers are printed in bold face type, inventory numbers in regular type; in the plates, where type distinction is not made, a few inventory numbers are preceded by "Inv." in order to avoid confusion with group numbers.

Inventory Numbers

The letters preceding inventory numbers indicate categories or materials, as follows: A - Architecture B - Bronze BI - Bone and Ivory G - Glass I - Inscriptions IL - Iron and Lead L - Lamps

MC - Miscellaneous Clay Objects P - Pottery S - Sculpture S S - Stamps and Seals ST - Stone T - Terracotta W - Wood

Catalogue Numbers

Catalogue numbers preceded by A, B, C, D, E refer to Hellenistic Groups A-E (Thompson, if. P.).

Catalogue numbers preceded by F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N refer to Roman Groups published in this volume.

Catalogue numbers set within lowered brackets indicate objects whose provenance is other than that of the Eoman Groups as such (see above, p. 2, note 7)


  1. height (unless otherwise specified, the height is measured from foot to lip and does not include projection of handle above the lip) D. diameter (unless otherwise specified, this measurement is taken at the point of maximum diameter) W. width
  2. thickness
  3. length (in the case of lamps, the length is measured to include the handle and nozzle)
  4. dim. maximum preserved dimension P.H. (P.D., etc.) height (diameter, etc.) as preserved est. estimated rest. as restored (restoration, in plaster, has been undertaken only where justified by the remains of the vessel itself or by analogous specimens) at t.(orb.) a.h. at level of top (or bottom) attachment of handle

Descriptive Terms

Glaze — This term has been interpreted freely. The glaze of Arretine and of some Samian pottery may truly be said to rival the best Attic glazes of the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. Most other glazes of the Roman period are dull and thin; there is no reason, however, to think that their basic chemical composition is different from that of the Attic or Arretine alkaline glazes—their inferior quality is due to poor mixing, thin application or poorly controlled firing, or to a combination of these factors. The absence of reference to glaze in the description of an object in the catalogue indicates that the piece was not glazed; where glaze is described, the object will be presumed to be glazed overall (in the case of closed vessels and lamps, this means the entire exterior surface). The addition of the term "partial" to a description of glaze signifies that on the exterior of the vessel the glaze is limited to the upper part (thus, an open vessel, such as a bowl or plate, if partially glazed, has glaze on the interior and on the upper part of the exterior surface).

Slip — This term is applied to a coating of thinned clay applied in almost liquid state to the surface of a vessel before firing. Slips are frequently to be found on non-glazed vessels, especially the smaller-sized jugs and amphorae; the presence of slip is readily detected in many cases where it shows a tendency to flake away from the body of the vase. Generally the slip is of the same color as the body (self-slip); occasionally it has a different color which is probably due to the use of a different clay mixture. The slip was presumably applied after the vase had reached the leather-hard condition, when it was given its final turning. It is not impossible that the slip was employed in the hope of concealing some of the inequalities of surface left by careless turning.

Matt white slip — This term is applied to a relatively thick coating of dull, white slip used particularly on local incense burners (as H 15, M 74, M 224). Such vessels are often of gray clay, not carefully turned; the slip may have been intended to conceal the poor quality and color of the body, but it is itself remarkably fugitive.

Double-dipping — The open vessels of Pergamene and Samian ware were normally glazed by dipping one half the circumference of the vessel into the glaze basin, then turning the piece 180° and dipping the other half; as a result, the two immersions into the glaze usually overlapped slightly, leaving a narrow streak of darker glaze running across the surface inside and out. This double-dipping process was not employed on other Roman or on Hellenistic wares, though most pottery of the Roman era was probably glazed by dipping (a single immersion) rather than by painting.

Wheel-ridging — In the throwing process the potter's finger tip or knuckle, or a blade with rounded end, held against the exterior of the body and moved up or down as the vessel revolves on the wheel, creates a spiral groove and spiral ridges about the body (PL IB, K 81). Usually, in the course of turning, these grooves and ridges are eliminated by the pressure of a wooden blade against the surface. The potter of Roman times often removed these irregularities only over part of the body (often just above the base, the turning of which of necessity involved the smoothing of the surface immediately above), leaving the wheel-ridges exposed over the balance of the surface (PL 14, K 82). In some cases the ridges were merely flattened in the turning process (PL 13, K 64); in others, as in numerous jugs of the 3rd century and later, the wheel-ridges were neatly executed and were retained as a form of decoration (PL 13, K 69-70).

Spiral grooving — By the use of an instrument with a narrow end or even a point, the potter may produce ridges which are close-set and sharp (PL 34, M 371, shoulder). This spiral grooving generally covers the upper portion of the body; in some instances the ridges between the groove-lines are partially flattened in the turning process, as in the case of wheel-ridging. This form of decoration appears in the 4th century and becomes common in the 5th and 6th.

Combing — On some vessels of the 6th and 7th centuries a decoration of parallel horizontal or wavy lines was obtained by holding the points of a fragment of comb against the pot as it revolved on the wheel. This practice, of great antiquity in the Near East,1 is still followed by some Athenian potters of the present day.

Gouging— Another form of decoration on later wares consists of lines cut into the exterior surface of the vessel, after turning, by means of a round-nosed blade or chisel. The lines are often vertical or oblique, carelessly incised all around the body (PL 30, M 292-293, M 298-299); occasionally they are used to create neat patterns of "'leaves" or "trees" (PL 31, [M 312]). Gouged decoration is rare before the time of theHerulian sack of Athens (cf. K 32, M 115, [M 157]).

Foot types — The following terms, used to describe feet of vessels in the catalogue, are illustrated by profile drawings on Plates 73 and 63:

  1. Ring foot — a foot which is clearly set off from the wall on the exterior and from the base on the interior (PL 73, G 13, G 82, M 94).
  2. False ring foot — a foot which is set off from the base on the interior but which on the exterior forms the termination of the wall (PL 73, G 21, M 176).
  3. Pedestal foot (PL 63, G 45).
  4. Tubular foot (PL 73, P 822).

1 On gray Minyan ware in Troy VI (Blegen, Caskey, and Rawson, Troy, vol. Ill, The Sixth Settlement, Princeton, 1953, p. 46, fig. 312, no. 37.1038 and passim); also reported in Troy VIII (Prof. Cedric Boulter). Cf. also J.H.S., LII, 1932, p. 5.

Base types — The term "base" is used to mean that part of the undersurface of the vessel which lies inside the line of the foot (or, in the absence of foot, the resting surface of the pot, as J 19, N 1—11). Four special types of base, listed below, are illustrated by profile drawings on Plates 73 and 60:

  1. Offset base — the base is separated by one or more ridges from the inside surface of the foot (PL 60, P 3, P 12 and P 14).
  2. Conical base — the base, instead of being flat, has the shape of an inverted cone (PL 73, G 82 and P 822).
  3. Moulded base — during turning the base is marked by alternating broad, concentric ridges and grooves (PL 73, M 94 and [M 101]).
  4. Grooved base — the base is marked by a groove just inside the foot (PL 73, M 145 and M 48).

Lip and rim types — In general the term "lip" is applied to the upper termination of the profile; 4'rim" describes that part of the vessel, near the lip, which is sometimes set off by a marked change in profile. Four special types of lip and rim are illustrated by profile drawings on Plate 73:

  1. Carinate rim — the rim is undercut and sharply set off from the wall (G 33).
  2. Flanged rim — the vertical rim is set off from the wall by a horizontal projection or flange (G 175, G 13).
  3. Rolled lip — the lip is thickened into a roll or collar (M 95; cf. also PL 22, M 95-98).
  4. Thickened lip — the fabric of the neck is thicker at the top and often flares outward (M 156; cf. also PL 24, M 156 and Pl. 25, M 175-178).

Handle types — The following terms, used to describe handles in the catalogue, are illustrated on Plates 42 and 41:

  1. Sliced handle — these handles are apparently made of narrow strips cut from a thin sheet of clay by means of a knife or taut wire (Pl. 42, [G 103] and G 183).
  2. Splayed handle — the upper and lower attachments of the handle are pressed out to the sides by the potter's fingers in order to insure a firm junction between handle and body (Pl. 41, left).
  3. Strap handle — a broad, flat handle (cf. no. 4, below).
  4. Ridged (grooved) handle — a strap handle marked by prominent grooves and ridges running lengthwise (Pl. 42, J 13, M 167, M 357).
  5. Rolled handle — a handle made of a strip of clay, rolled on the potter's bench (cf. no. 6, below).
  6. Double rolled handle (Pl. 42, G 198).
  7. Ribbon handle — a horizontal handle, often ridged, applied close to the body and serving primarily for decoration (Pl. 42, K 20).
  8. Twist handle — a handle made of two or more rolls of clay twisted or braided together (Pl. 42, F 68).

Filling hole — Athenian householders frequently broke a hole in the shoulder of a closed vessel, after its original contents had been exhausted, in order to facilitate its re-use for drawing water; this hole became the filling hole, while the original mouth served as an escape for air when the jar was lowered into the well water (the filling holes are visible in the photographs of J 51, [3 46] and J 50 on PL 11). Such holes are found commonly in amphorae and jars of the 2nd century and later. Mrs. Evelyn Smithson informs me that similar re-use of medium-sized oinochoai occurred in the Proto-geometric and early Geometric periods in Athens.

Mastic — Wine storage jars frequently (and smaller amphorae and jugs occasionally) were lined on the interior with a resinous substance, the residue of which is found settled in a thick mass at the bottom of the vessel and in a thin coating over the wall (PL 35, M 99). This substance is generally black in color, with a glossy surface, and very brittle; when chipped, it flakes away readily; when heated, it gives off a pungent odor. Mr. Earle R. Caley in 1937 examined samples of this substance from 4th century jars of Group M and declared it to be mastic gum.2 The presence of such a lining in vessels catalogued below will be indicated by the addition of the word "mastic" to the description of the fabric.

Storage — In addition to the inventoried objects from the eight groups, there are in storage numerous pots and fragments which have not been considered worthy of inventory numbers; such pieces, however, may be of considerable importance in establishing the chronological limits and relative frequency of certain fabrics and shapes. When such uninventoried pieces are mentioned in the catalogue, they are introduced under the heading "Storage."

Deposit — This term is used to refer to any physical unit (well, cistern, grave, pit, layer of destruction debris, etc.) in which the recovered finds present sufficient homogeneity to be of value in the study of type, style, chronology. In the Index of Roman Deposits (pp. 123-127) will be found a list of all deposits referred to in this volume; an explanation of the grid numbering system for deposits is also given there.

Group — This word is used to refer to the material contents of a deposit.

Context — Objects which do not derive from specific deposits are yet often found in association with some other material (pottery, lamps, coins) which may be helpful in confirming chronology. When such objects are cited in the catalogue without reference to context or date, it is to be assumed that no valid chronological evidence is available.


Dates — Dates are to be understood as of the Christian era unless otherwise specified.

Measurements — All measurements are given in meters (the "m." is omitted in the descriptions of the objects).

Descriptions — Detailed description of the shape of a vessel is often omitted when the shape is clear from the photograph or profile drawing.

Color — As all color descriptions, those used in the following catalogue are bound to be deceptive to the reader. Uniformity in color identification can be achieved only through the use of a standard color chart,-3 yet the use of such a chart is unsatisfactory, except

2 On the use of mastic and other resins by the ancients for flavoring their wines (both in casks and jars) see: Dioscurides, Mat Med., V, 34; Cato, De Agri CuUura, XXIII; Pliny, Nat. Hist., XII, 72, XIV, 120-124, 127-128, 134, XVI, 53-58, XXIII, 45-46; Columella, XII, 18,23-24. It is perhaps questionable whether the method of flavoring with resin described by Cato would leave so considerable a deposit in the jars as that which can still be found in many from the Agora excavations; but the preliminary lining of the jars with pitch would certainly do so (Cato and Columella, locc. citt.). With the ancient name of the resin-flavored wine, jbiynviTTis, compare the modern £rronv<5rra.

3 As the Munsell Soil Color Charts, prepared by the Munsell Color Co., Baltimore, Md.

for the finest fabrics, because most pottery vessels exhibit numerous variations in color of clay on the surface and at the core and other variations in the color of the glaze, the result, for the most part, of unstable firing conditions in the kiln. It is, furthermore, highly probable that the student working primarily with pottery may describe the color of a clay lamp or figurine in terms common to pottery description but different from those which would be used by one whose concern was primarily with the lamps or figurines.

Cross References

Lamps — In descriptions of Greek lamps, the type classifications established by Howland (Howland, Lamps) are followed. The Corinth lamp types of Broneer's publication (Broneer, Lamps) are referred to occasionally; but the Corinthian type distinctions are often not strictly applicable to the lamps found in Athens. The lamps of Roman date from the Agora will be published by Miss Judith Perlzweig (Perlzweig, Lamps) without division into specifically numbered types; the plastic lamps will be treated by Miss Claireve Grandjouan in the same volume (Perlzweig-Grandjouan, Lamps). Cross references are provided in the ensuing catalogue for each lamp published by Howland, Perlzweig, or Grandjouan. For Howland the appropriate catalogue number is given. For Perlzweig and Grandjouan reference is by author's name only to the volume where cross reference may be found by consulting the inventory number in the Concordance. For plastic lamps the name Perlzweig-Grandjouan is used to distinguish from Grandjouan, Terracottas.

Terracottas — Miss Clair&ve Grandjouan will publish the terracottas of Roman date from the Agora (Grandjouan, Terracottas). Cross references to her volume are provided in the following catalogue by author's name only.

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